Are commissions scary? Well in several ways they can be, especially if it is a portrait of someone. I have done quite a number of portrait commission and I still worry about getting a good likeness. I can't help but wonder if the person who commissioned me will be pleased with the painting. So yes, I kinda think doing commissions can be scary, but not enough to say "no" to one!
This past week I completed a commission of a darling little girl named Alice. The painting is done in watercolor and it was commissioned locally, but in the past I have had quite a few requests from online. Over the years I have come up with some guidelines that I follow to insure success with the client.
1. Get to know something about the client and the subject of the portrait.
Whether I am meeting with them in person or am corresponding through email, I ask about the person they wish me to paint. Getting to know something of the personality is helpful, because I rarely get to meet the subject in person. I also find out what is the occasion for the commission. In this case it is for Alice's birthday and she is the client's granddaughter.
2. What does the client want included in the portrait?
The client gave me a photo of Alice and I asked if he wanted me to crop the photo so that it was a more traditional portrait of face and shoulders, or would he like the pose as shown? As they often do, he asked me what I thought. I explained my preference for the whole pose because I thought it added more of a story about Alice. He agreed (obviously!). I then asked what size he wanted it done in. The client was going to get it framed himself. A lot of times people are not familiar with standard frame sizes, so I showed the client how different sizes would look. He ended up choosing an 11"x14" painting and it would fit in a 16"x20" frame with mat.
I also asked if he wanted the same background in the photo or would he like to choose other colors for the background. He wanted to keep it the same as the photo. It's best to confirm what you are going to paint!
3. Keep the Client updated.
I asked for the client's email address with a promise that I would email him the drawing to get his approval before painting it. I also asked when he would like it finished by. It was the third week of June, and he said Alice's birthday was in mid-August and they were going to California to celebrate it with her. I estimated my commitments for the next little while and told him I could have it done by the first of August. It is best to make sure you allow yourself enough time. Then if you get it done sooner, the client will be pleasantly surprised.
I asked Mr. Client if he would like me to email a photo of the finished painting. He chose to be surprised and see it when he came to pay for it.
Normally I charge 20 -25% of the purchase price upfront (non refundable) and collect the balance when the painting is finished. A lot of work can go into doing a commission and this insures that your efforts are covered in the event of a cancellation. Don't forget to mention that you will collect tax on the purchase price.
4. Drawing the subject.
This is where I spend the most time of the whole process. It is very critical to get the best drawing you can do before you start painting. I usually draw it, then wait til the next day to look at it again. It seems with a fresh view I can fine-tune the features so that I get a very good likeness. I used to not do the second step and quickly realized how important it was. Once finished I take a picture of it and email it to the client for approval.
Don't be too discouraged if the client suggests a few changes. For this commission it was approved as I had drawn it, but in the past I have had suggestions given. I found this was very helpful, especially since one of them was a commission from the internet. I usually only get to see one photo of the subject, but the client knows the person and their personality so their suggestions help me create a better portrait.
5. Ready to paint!
Tips on materials: Make sure you use quality paints and paper/canvas for your commission. If you use a student grade paper or watercolor paint, you will fight with the lack of quality and it's just not worth your time and can affect the quality of your painting.
Make sure you don't rush through the painting process. You owe it to your client to do your best work and it should be fun!
Once I was finished, I made sure I had fulfilled all the client's requests. For the Alice commission, the client requested a Certificate of Authenticity. Some artists always include these with their artwork, but if you don't there are numerous websites that offer templates to download. In this case I used a COA from an online group I belong to.
Because this was a local commission, I placed the painting on foam core that was cut to the size of the painting. As previously mentioned the painting was 11"x14" and I allowed an extra 1/2 inch on each side so that I could tape the paper down for painting. That way no white edges would show through the mat when the tape was removed. I then either use clear plastic envelopes to protect the painting or wrap it in cellophane. I sign my name on the back of the watercolor paper with the title and date it.
On the back of the foam core I attach one of my business cards as well as the Certificate of Authenticity.
The client was very pleased with the painting, and noted that he loved my style and felt that I had carried it across to the commission. He chose two of my blank cards with images of my artwork for family birthdays, etc and I told him that they were my gift to him for giving me the commission. With my online sales, I usually include one of my blank cards as well when I ship a commission. I always feel very grateful when someone purchases my art, so I like to give them a little gift!
So is painting a commission scary? Not if you do the best you can and communicate well with the client. Oh and one more thing, I charge a little more for commissions than I do for artwork that I create for the gallery. I do this because of all the additional steps that are involved when working with a client.
One more thing... I practice drawing people all the time so that I can improve my skills and I would recommend that to anyone who is interested in doing portraiture.
My largest commission ever?
The largest commission I have ever done was a cow painted on a 4'x8' piece of plywood that a client wanted for the side of his barn in New York. Shipping was a bit tricky but I managed!